Mutual Assured Destruction

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Mutual Assured Destruction

A ndrey Sakharov (1921–1989), father of the Soviet Union's first true hydrogen bomb, witnessed the test of that bomb on November 22, 1955. He was distressed by what he saw and disturbed by the results of his work. As noted on the Public Broadcasting Service's Race for the Superbomb Web site, Sakharov wrote, "When you see all of this yourself, something in you changes. When you see the burned birds who are withering on the scorched steppe [land], when you see how the shock wave blows away buildings like houses of cards, when you feel the reek [smoke] of splintered bricks, when you sense melted glass, you immediately think of times of war … All of this triggers an irrational yet very strong emotional impact."

Between 1945 and 1991, the Cold War dominated global affairs. The Cold War was a war of ideological differences between the United States and the Soviet Union, the countries that emerged as superpowers after World War II (1939–45). The Cold War came about because of differences in political, economic, and cultural systems, but ultimately what defined the Cold War was nuclear weapons. By the late 1960s, both superpowers had spent and were continuing to spend billions of dollars every day to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. Neither country wanted to use these weapons, but both wanted the dubious security of knowing they could annihilate the other side if the other side were to attack. If each could destroy the other, then starting a war meant assured self-destruction. Ironically, the buildup of nuclear weapons deterred the superpowers from starting a war with each other. "Assured destruction," a term first used about 1964, bluntly describes the end result of a nuclear war. The term soon evolved into "mutual assured destruction," appropriately abbreviated MAD.

Scientists and government leaders from both countries hoped that the threat of catastrophic damages by a nuclear counterstrike would deter the other side from launching a first-strike attack. At the same time, they continued to try to outwit the other side, building up their arsenals, or collections of weapons, with new arms and defense systems. This policy of deterrence, an attempt to discourage another nation from initiating hostile activity by threatening severe retaliation such as nuclear war, led the United States to develop the "Strategic Triad." The triad, or trio, of weapons, all aimed at the Soviet Union, included long- and intermediate-range missiles fitted with nuclear warheads, long-range bombers carrying nuclear weapons, and nuclear-powered submarines with onboard nuclear-tipped missiles. The Soviet Union responded by developing and deploying, or strategically distributing, the same types of weapons, all aimed at the United States. From the late 1950s and into the 1960s, the nuclear arms race was on.

Beginning to build nuclear stockpiles

In 1951, the U.S. Air Force began the Atlas missile project, the development of the first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). It also concentrated on developing its attack force of long-range bombers. Both the missiles and bombers would carry nuclear warheads over thousands of miles to the Soviet Union. These long-range missiles and bombers were known as "strategic" weapons. Some political and military strategy experts began to worry that the United States would have to react to even a small conflict in Europe with an all-out nuclear assault. Because of the emphasis on long-range weapons that carry large payloads, weapons of lesser capability for responding with more limited means were neglected as part of the arsenal. So short-range, or "tactical," weapons were designed. These included rockets with ranges of about 100 miles (161 kilometers) and small artillery, both armed with nuclear warheads that could target advancing troops or other specific military sites rather than annihilate whole regions. The United States built both strategic and tactical weapons for its nuclear stockpiles.

By the mid-1950s, the Soviet Union had successfully tested the hydrogen bomb and was developing ICBMs. Although the United States still had a greater number of nuclear

weapons, the Soviets were making great strides in building up their country's nuclear arsenals. In response, the U.S. military services accelerated development of missile delivery systems—the ICBMs, intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), and a new class of submarines. The United States spared no expense to make the systems operational as quickly as possible.

The Atlas ICBM missile, which could deliver a nuclear warhead 6,500 miles (10,459 kilometers) from the launch site, became the air force's number one priority. Two more ICBMs, Titan II and the Minuteman, were in development. Becoming operational in 1958, the Thor was the first U.S. IRBM; its range was 1,725 miles (2,776 kilometers). Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy designed and tested a new class of nuclear-powered submarine. The first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, went to sea in January 1955.

During the same period, U.S. Air Force general Curtis LeMay (1906–1990), who was in charge of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), convinced Congress to fund more strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, as well as long-range bombers to carry the weapons. By the late 1950s, the air force had taken delivery of over two thousand B-47 Stratojet aircraft, including bombers, reconnaissance planes, and aircraft designed for training purposes. The B-47 could refuel in midair. Built by Boeing Aircraft, the B-47 would be the design prototype of the new Boeing 707 commercial jet airliner, which provided the basic design for airliners that followed. SAC also had roughly five hundred of the enormous, long-range B-52 bombers. Both the B-47s and B-52s could deliver nuclear bombs to the Soviet Union.

The Strategic Triad

To discourage an enemy attack, both the United States and the Soviet Union depended on the credible threat of retaliation. They had accumulated sufficient means to utterly destroy any foe, thus giving any potential enemy a second thought about taking offensive hostile action. The three nuclear deterrent systems developed in the 1950s in the United States became known as the Strategic Triad. The Triad included long-range bombers carrying nuclear weapons, land-based ICBMs, and nuclear-powered submarines. Each system was independent of the other, and each carried enough force to destroy the enemy. The enemy could not hope to destroy all three systems at the same time in a first strike, so the Strategic Triad seemed invincible. Each part of the Triad was operational by the early 1960s.

SAC kept a minimum of twelve long-range B-52 bombers airborne around the clock; each one carried three or four nuclear bombs. Refueled in midair, the B-52s traveled over North America and over the Mediterranean Sea. To back them up, half of the B-52 attack force on the ground stayed on alert and could be airborne in fifteen minutes.

Operational by 1959, the Atlas ICBMs were housed in underground missile silos in the central United States; a few resided on the West Coast and in New York State. The underground silos were for protection from enemy attack. An elevator raised the missile to the surface, because Atlas could only be fired from above ground.

Fifty-four technically advanced Titan II missiles were deployed in underground concrete sites by December 31, 1963; they were located near Tucson, Arizona; Jacksonville, Arkansas; and Wichita, Kansas. Quicker-reacting than the Atlas, the 150-ton (136-metric-ton) Titan IIs could be launched within one minute of an order. These missiles remained on alert into the early 1980s. The smaller (40-ton, or 36-metric ton) Minuteman, with the same long range of more than 6,000 miles (9,654 kilometers), was still in development. SAC deployed Thor IRBMs at sites in England in 1959, where they were maintained—ready to fire—by the Royal Air Force. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, approximately 182 ICBMs were readied for immediate launch.

The third component of the Strategic Triad was ballistic missile submarines, referred to as SSBNs. These submarines were easily maneuverable and could hide for long periods in the depths of the ocean. Between 1960 and 1966, the U.S. Navy launched forty-one SSBNs (or "boomers," as they were nicknamed). Each carried sixteen Polaris nuclear missiles. The submarines lay undetectable on the bottom of every ocean, on twenty-four-hour alert.

In addition to the offensive weapons, early-warning radar systems were essential. Operational by 1962, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) maintained three tracking sites: the first in Thule, Greenland; the second in Clear, Alaska; and the third on England's east coast at Fylingdales Moor. With radar trained on the Soviet Union, these sites could track any incoming missile. Information automatically went to the North American Air Defense Command, known as NORAD, located underground near Colorado Springs, Colorado. In turn, NORAD immediately alerted SAC, under the command of General Thomas Power (1905–1970), in Omaha, Nebraska. SAC served as the command center, the place where orders to fire nuclear weapons would originate. However, if SAC were destroyed, local commanders could give orders to fire nuclear weapons if they believed the United States to be under nuclear attack.

Although at the time exact figures were not available, the Soviet Union was believed to have nuclear capabilities similar to those of the United States. The Soviets had fewer weapons, but their nuclear warhead stockpile was considerable. Soviet ICBMs, aimed at U.S. cities, were housed in underground silos, just as the U.S. missiles were. A large Soviet SSBN force patrolled the depths of the oceans.

Keeping tensions high

Several occurrences greatly heightened tensions in the early 1960s. First, in May 1960, a U.S. Air Force U-2 reconnaissance (spy) flight flying high in the sky over the Soviet Union was brought down by new Soviet antiaircraft weapons. U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953–61) refused to apologize to the Soviets; he also refused to promise that the spying would stop. Furious, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) refused to participate in a scheduled summit meeting of world powers that month in Paris.

Next, on October 30, 1961, over the remote northwestern Soviet island of Novaya Zemlya, the Soviets tested what became known as the Soviet superbomb. The nuclear bomb had a force equal to 50 million tons (45 million metrictons) of TNT. (In comparison, the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 had a force equal to 13,000 tons of TNT.) The superbomb was the largest explosion on earth up to that date, but Khrushchev promised future bombs double its size. This promise was never turned into action, and in the early twenty-first century, the bomb of October 30, 1961, remained the largest bomb ever exploded.

The closest the superpowers came to initiating a worldwide nuclear holocaust was October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The level of U.S. military alert worldwide was at DEFCON 2 alert, the last level before nuclear war and the first time in history that this alert level was reached. DEFCON, short for Defense Condition, is a rating system describing progressive alert levels used within the military; DEFCON 5 is normal peacetime readiness, while DEFCON 1 is maximum force readiness (for instance, an enemy's missiles are in the air and a nuclear war is imminent). The ICBMs in their silos and the SSBNs in the ocean were prepared for firing. It took high-level diplomacy and some luck to prevent an actual nuclear war (see Chapter 9, Cuban Missile Crisis).

Scared silly

Despite the nuclear arms race, as early as 1953 President Eisenhower, in his "Atoms for Peace" speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, had proposed using nuclear power for peaceful purposes such as electrical power generation. The proposal was brushed aside. However, Khrushchev kept alive the notion of negotiating on constructive nuclear research and development. In 1956 at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party, he stated that war between the United States and the Soviet Union was not inevitable. Yet it took the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the superpowers took the world to the brink of nuclear war, to convert talk into action.

Scared silly by the crisis, U.S. and Soviet leaders set up a direct line of communication, a hot line between the White House and the Kremlin, or Soviet government, in Moscow. Going into effect on June 20, 1963, the Hot Line Agreement was designed to reduce the risk of a nuclear war being caused by misunderstanding, miscalculation, or accident. The hot line utilized transatlantic cables and radiotelegraph circuitsfor constant communication readiness. In 1963, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain, which was also processing nuclear weapons, negotiated a three-way agreement that banned nuclear bomb testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, or underwater. They could continue underground testing as long as radioactive fallout did not reach outside the country doing the testing. This agreement was known as the Limited Test-Ban Treaty of 1963.

Despite the encouraging agreements, the Soviets put forth an all-out effort after the Cuban Missile Crisis to match U.S. weapons production. The Soviet SS-9 Scarp ICBM missiles became operational and could target sites 7,000 miles (11,263 kilometers) away. By the late 1960s, the Soviet Union surpassed the United States in its ICBM count. The Soviets also introduced advanced SSBNs of the "Yankee" class, each capable of carrying sixteen nuclear missiles. The United States likewise kept its strategic and tactical nuclear weapons production in high gear and its Strategic Triad primed and ready. Both superpowers now had the means to annihilate the world many times over.

Opposing the bomb

Nuclear technology has stirred conflict and controversy from its earliest days. The awesome power of nuclear test bombs caused widespread fear among the general public. Many people opposed the nuclear arms race, some for moral reasons and some because of environmental concerns. Even scientists who understood the technology deplored the way it was being used. Albert Einstein (1879–1955), America's most famous physicist, openly agonized a few years later that his 1939 letter to U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45), which stressed the urgency of the atomic bomb situation, helped spawn the development of the bomb.J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967), director of the Manhattan Project, which produced two types of atomic bombs by 1945, vehemently opposed U.S. development of the hydrogen bomb. Likewise, Igor Kurchatov (1903–1960), the scientist who headed the Soviet Union's nuclear program, became increasingly alarmed about the destructive power of nuclear weapons. After observing the 1955 test of the first true Soviet hydrogen bomb, Kurchatov and Andrey Sakharov regretted the consequences of their accomplishments. From then until his death in 1960, Kurchatov stressed the use of nuclear power for the good of humankind.

The first mass public outcry against nuclear weapons happened in Great Britain. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) formed in London in spring 1958. One of the founders was British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970). Russell feared that humankind would not long survive if the superpowers became involved in a sort of nuclear game. CND organized a protest march at Easter from London to Aldermaston, where British nuclear weapons were researched and produced. It was in this march that the logo for nuclear disarmament, soon to become the worldwide symbol for peace, first appeared—on round, lollipop-shaped cardboard signs.

At Easter the next year, the Ban the Bomb march, which became an annual event, again proceeded down the same path to Aldermaston. Ban the Bomb protests and marches spread to West Germany, Holland, and Sweden. By late 1960, the militant Committee of 100 had formed. It was an organization in favor of nuclear disarmament that was dedicated to inciting civil disobedience, or willfully disobeying the law for a common cause. Its members planned protests at Holy Loch in Scotland, where a U.S. nuclear submarine carrying Polaris missiles had docked. The eighty-nine-year-old Russell, the committee's president, was arrested and sent to prison for inciting civil disobedience. Although he was released after one week, his imprisonment sparked worldwide outrage. The CND's march to Aldermaston and the Committee of 100 protests began what would become an international peace movement. The citizens of Western Europe and the United States were keenly aware of the stakes of the nuclear arms race. However, people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe rarely had access to news of what was going on. But concern over nuclear weapons was growing, and even U.S. president John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) remarked at a commencement speech in June 1963 that the money used for developing nuclear weapons could be better spent improving the lives of people.

More bombs, more treaties

China detonated its first hydrogen bomb on October 16, 1964. Five nations now had nuclear weapons: the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, China, and France. The 1963 Limited Test-Ban Treaty had been a small step forward, but neither China nor France had signed it. By the mid-1960s, both superpowers, with rapidly advancing nuclear research, were building systems or shields to protect themselves from ICBM attack. These were called antiballistic missiles (ABMs). Although it was unlikely that such systems could provide anywhere near complete protection in a nuclear attack, both countries spent billions of dollars developing them. In 1967, U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1961–69) approached the new Soviet prime minister, Aleksey Kosygin (1904–1980), about curtailing ABM deployment, due to the overwhelmingly high cost of development and the unreliable performance. Kosygin only spoke of reducing the total number of strategic missiles, so ABM development continued.

Meanwhile, several nuclear treaties were signed and ratified (passed by the individual governments involved) in 1967 and 1968. In 1967, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain signed and ratified the Outer Space Treaty, which banned putting nuclear weapons in orbit around the Earth and using the Moon or other celestial bodies for installation or testing of nuclear weapons. Also in 1967, twenty-four Latin American countries banned the "manufacture, acquisition, testing, deployment, or other use of nuclear weapons" in their countries. The treaty was called the Latin American Nuclear-Free Zone Treaty. Cuba did not sign the treaty. Most important, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain were the first three countries to sign and ratify the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968. They also agreed to not share nuclear weapon technology with those countries that did not have such technology already. Under this agreement, nations without nuclear weapons agreed not to acquire them, and nations with nuclear arms would negotiate for disarmament. Over the next few years, over one hundred more countries signed the treaty. Progress continued in November 1969 with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) in Helsinki, Finland.

For More Information


Frankel, Benjamin, ed. The Cold War, 1945–1991. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1992.

Freedman, Lawrence. Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Isaacs, Jeremy, and Taylor Downing. Cold War: An Illustrated History, 1945–1991. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998.

Maier, Pauline, Merritt R. Smith, Alexander Keyssar, and Daniel J. Kevles. Inventing America: A History of the United States. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.

Rhodes, Richard. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Sagan, Scott D. The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Web Sites

"Arms Control Treaties." Atomic Archive. (accessed on August 5, 2003).

"Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs)." United States Strategic (accessed on August 5, 2003).

"A History of the CND Logo." Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. (accessed on August 5,2003).

Titan Missile Museum. (accessed on August 5, 2003).

United States Air Force Museum. (accessed on August 5, 2003).

U.S. Navy, Office of Information. United States Navy Fact File: Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines—SSBN. (accessed on August 5, 2003).

The World Wide Web Virtual Library: Naval and Maritime: Submarines. (accessed on August 5,2005).

Words to Know

Cold War: A prolonged conflict for world dominance from 1945 to 1991 between the two superpowers, the democratic, capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. The weapons of conflict were commonly words of propaganda and threats.

Communism: A system of government in which the nation's leaders are selected by a single political party that controls all aspects of society. Private ownership of property is eliminated and government directs all economic production. The goods produced and accumulated wealth are, in theory, shared relatively equally by all. All religious practices are banned.

Limited Test-Ban Treaty of 1963: An agreement between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain that banned nuclear bomb testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, or underwater. They could continue underground testing as long as radioactive fallout did not reach outside the country doing the testing.

Mutual assured destruction (MAD): A military strategy in which the threat of catastrophic damages by a nuclear counterstrike would deter any launch of a first-strike attack.

Strategic Air Command (SAC): A unit established by the U.S. military with the goal of identifying targets in the Soviet Union and being ready to deliver nuclear weapons to those targets.

Strategic arms: Military weapons key to the strategy of making the enemy incapable of conducting war; generally refers to long-ranging weapons.

Strategic Triad: The United States' trio of weapons aimed at the Soviet Union; the arsenal consisted of long- and intermediate-range missiles fitted with nuclear warheads, long-range bombers carrying nuclear weapons, and nuclear-powered submarines with onboard nuclear-tipped missiles.

Tactical arms: Military weapons that allow flexibility and skillful maneuverability in combat; generally referring to short-range weapons.

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

The movie Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb arrived in theaters in 1964, only two years after the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The crisis took the world's super-powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, to the brink of nuclear war. The ruling military strategy of the 1960s was deterrence, or "mutual assured destruction" (MAD): If one superpower launched a first strike, it would kill millions and destroy the country being attacked. However, before this happened, the attacked country would launch a counterattack, thus assuring the mutual destruction of both countries. With MAD as the end result, neither superpower wanted to launch a first strike. Under these circumstances, it seemed that only a horrendous mistake or a madman controlling the command center would initiate a nuclear war.

Dr. Strangelove, directed by Stanley Kubrick (1928–1999), explores the madman scenario. In the early 1960s, the madman character, Jack D. Ripper, an insane U.S. Air Force general, orders a long-range bomber equipped with nuclear warheads to attack the Soviet Union. He is the only one who knows the code to call the bomber back but quickly seals off all communication channels. Dr. Strangelove, played by comedic

actor Peter Sellers (1925–1980), and President Muffley, also played by Sellers, try desperately but unsuccessfully to return the bombers to the United States. The Dr. Strangelove character is a German scientist who was brought to the United States after World War II to work on the U.S. missile projects. Considerable comic exaggeration is used throughout the movie. For example, the pilot of the bomber, played by Slim Pickens (1919–1983), straddles the nuclear bomb as it drops over the Soviet Union, slapping the bomb with his Stetson hat and yelling "Yahoo!" as if he's riding a bronco in a rodeo.

Nuclear Accidents

A number of chilling accidents involving B-52s carrying thermonuclear bombs occurred in the 1960s. The bombs ride in the B-52s in an unarmed state and must be armed by special procedures that would take a crew member a few minutes to execute. The bombs are equipped with safety devices designed to keep an unarmed bomb from detonating even if it falls to the earth because of an accident. Although there have been a number of close calls, a thermonuclear explosion has miraculously never occurred as a result of an accident. Recently, the opening of military archives revealed a considerable number of near misses. Two of the most famous are the Palomares Incident and the Thule Accident.

One near miss occurred on January 17, 1966. Known as the Palomares Incident, a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber based in North Carolina was on routine patrol over the southeastern coast of Spain. The B-52 carried four unarmed B-28 hydrogen bombs. Attempting to refuel in midair at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), the B-52 collided with the fueling boom (the instrument through which the fuel enters the plane needing refueling) of the KC-135 tanker jet. The resulting explosion released the four bombs; three fell to the ground around Palomares, a farming community near the coastal highway, and the fourth fell 5 miles (8 kilometers) offshore in the Mediterranean Sea. Immediately, the United States announced there was no public health danger.

The bomb that fell into the Mediterranean Sea spurred an intensive underwater search. The search involved thirty-three naval vessels and took eighty-one days. Eventually, the bomb was located by a submersible at 2,500 feet (762 meters). Fortunately, the bomb was intact and apparently had leaked no radiation.

Of the three bombs that landed near Palomares, one landed in a dry riverbed, relatively intact. Although safety devices in all three prevented the thermonuclear devices from exploding, the high explosives in two of the bombs detonated, spreading radioactive particles over approximately 650 acres of farmland, more than 1 square mile (2.6 square kilometers). Winds then spread the plutonium dust and made it impossible to determine how far the dust was spread. For the next three months, seventeen hundred U.S. military personnel and Spanish civil guards moved an estimated 1,750 tons (1,587 metric tons) of plutonium-contaminated soil and vegetation, primarily tomatoes, from around Palomares. It was shipped to the United States for disposal. The U.S. personnel wore protective clothing, but the Spanish workers were not well protected. After the initial cleanup effort, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Spain's Junta de Energía Nuclear (JEN) began a program to monitor the health of those living in the area. AEC provided funds, and JEN performed the monitoring programs. By the

mid-1980s, costs for the cleanup, the monitoring programs, and the five hundred medical claims filed by villagers from Palomares added up to more than $120 million.

Another incident, the Thule Accident, occurred on January 21, 1968. A B-52 bomber carrying four unarmed B-28 hydrogen bombs was on an early-warning patrol mission. It was flying high above the earlywarning radar towers on the U.S. air base in Thule, Greenland (at that time, a province of Denmark). Suddenly, a fire broke out on the aircraft. Minutes later, smoke filled the B-52, and electrical power was lost. Six of the seven crew members ejected safely. The aircraft crashed 7 miles (11 kilometers) from the base onto ice-covered North Star Bay at a speed of 560 miles (900 kilometers) per hour. As at Palomares, the thermonuclear devices did not detonate even in the inferno of the crash. However, the high explosives within the bombs surrounding the thermonuclear devices did explode (just as they had at Palomares). Radioactive materials spread over the ice. A massive cleanup followed. In the next eight months, seven hundred U.S. military personnel and Danish civilians at Thule collected 10,500 tons (9,524 metric tons) of snow, ice, and debris in barrels. The barrels were sent to the Savannah, Georgia, River Plant for disposal. Aircraft debris went to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for disposal. The cleanup cost approximately $9.4 million. Years later, studies of Danish workers who were involved in the cleanup reported high incidences of cancer.U.S. Air Force personnel who participated in the cleanup were not monitored.

The Palomares Incident and the Thule Accident provoked protests from the international community. Neutral, nuclear-free countries wanted U.S. aircraft carrying nuclear weapons to stop flying over their countries. By the late 1960s the Strategic Air Command (SAC) suspended airborne patrol missions. Instead, SAC depended on land-based early-warning radar systems and on the speed and efficiency of the U.S. Air Force in getting B-52s airborne.

History of the Peace Symbol

The peace symbol used extensively through most of the second half of the twentieth century originated in London, England, in the spring of 1958. Gerald Holton, a commercial artist in London, designed the symbol for banners for the first antinuclear protest march. The people involved in the march, which was organized by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), held lollipop-shaped signs bearing the peace symbol as they marched from London to Aldermaston on Easter weekend. Aldermaston was a British site for research and production of nuclear weapons.

Holton's first banner featured a white circle drawn on a purple square; inside the circle was a symbol that looked like a cross with its arms drooping downward. Holton used semaphore, a visual signaling system involving flags and arm movements, to create the symbol. He chose the letters N and D (for "nuclear disarmament") for his design. The semaphore code for D is a man holding flags with one arm straight up and

one straight down so as to make a straight line. The N semaphore code is a man holding flags with both arms pointed down and away from his sides. By layering one code letter over the other, Holton made the now famous peace symbol.

Duck and Cover

During the 1950s, schoolchildren throughout the United States were taught the "duck and cover" drill. For a bomb drill, a school commonly rang its bell in a pattern of short—long—short—long— short—long and so on. This pattern was in contrast to the fire drill bell of three long rings. Upon hearing the bell rings for the bomb drill, children moved to a central hall, or under their desks, sat down on the floor with knees tucked under, and covered their ducked heads with their hands. Whether principals and teachers really thought children would be safer in this position during a nuclear attack is debatable. However, it made everyone feel better to at least have a plan.